A policeman uses a baton to disperse protesters in Gujarat on August 25. Journalists were among those injured as police broke up the crowds. (AP/Ajit Solanki)
A policeman uses a baton to disperse protesters in Gujarat on August 25. Journalists were among those injured as police broke up the crowds. (AP/Ajit Solanki)

Amid claims of police beatings during Gujarat clashes, India should step up press protection

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Images of police forcibly suppressing protesters, such as the one above, are seen in many places around the world. Too frequently, journalists trying to cover these events find themselves caught in the crosshairs, with news crews beaten by police batons, exposed to teargas or hit by water cannon. From race riots in Ferguson in the U.S. to clashes in India, journalists covering unrest risk finding themselves injured in the violence.

This week, as caste-related clashes in the western Indian state of Gujarat made headlines globally, journalists trying to cover the unrest were among those injured. Among reports of the press being assaulted by police was a case in Outlook magazine of two journalists said to have been injured on August 25 when police charged at protesters in Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Police in the city of Ahmedabad used batons to beat Sharathkumar Shashidharan, a photojournalist, who was left with injuries to a hand and ribs, a colleague of the journalist told Outlook. Dilavar Pathan, a cameraman at a Gujarati-language news channel which was not identified in the report, was also beaten by police and left with injuries to his hands, back, legs, and an eye.

It is not yet clear if police are investigating the latest claims of violence, but such assaults against journalists are not uncommon in the world’s largest democracy, as CPJ has noted previously. Some have even taken a deadly turn, such as the 2012 killing of Dwijamani Singh, a cameraman with Prime News, who was shot dead when police used rounds of live ammunition to disperse protesters in Manipur. Police violence against the press is not confined to one corner of the country either. CPJ has documented numerous cases in recent years, including journalists who were kicked and beaten by paramilitary forces and police while covering strikes in the restive region of Kashmir, and members of the press who were injured and had equipment damaged when police used water cannon and batons to disperse protesters in the wake of the 2012 gang-rape in the capital, Delhi. It’s a problem we see regularly, yet there has been little to no accountability.

At times like this, CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide is an invaluable resource for media working under risky conditions. It offers advice on how journalists can prepare and protect themselves while covering protests or riots, and suggests techniques for handling the stress that can come from reporting in hazardous conditions.

But the onus on safety shouldn’t just fall to journalists. India would stand to gain by ensuring such episodes of police brutality are credibly investigated and those responsible are brought to justice. By taking a more proactive stance and ensuring police are better trained to handle such situations and are made aware of the vital role played by the press, India would prove itself a leader in the region in balancing security concerns with press freedom.